United States and Russia Reach Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreement

The United States and Russia commited to deep reductions in their nuclear arsenals and inaugurated a post-Cold War environment of reduced superpower threats with the second treaty to come out of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks.

Summary of Event

For decades after the end of World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union amassed ever-increasing numbers of weapons. For most of that time, arms control agreements were elusive. The continuous improvement in East-West relations in the late 1980’s paved the way for unprecedented agreements to reverse the arms race in Europe, including the treaty to eliminate intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (1987)[Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty] and to cut conventional forces in Europe (CFE) significantly in 1990. A year later, culminating almost a decade of arms control talks initiated by President Ronald Reagan, Reagan, Ronald
[p]Reagan, Ronald;nuclear disarmament the United States and the Soviet Union signed an agreement to reduce strategic nuclear weapons, which by definition threatened the territory of the superpowers themselves. Only months after the first treaty of the Strategic Arms Reduction Talks, or START, START I (1991)[Start 01] was signed, however, the Soviet Union dissolved into fifteen sovereign countries. Nuclear weapons;disarmament
START II (1993)[Start 02]
[kw]United States and Russia Reach Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreement (Jan. 3, 1993)
[kw]Russia Reach Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreement, United States and (Jan. 3, 1993)
[kw]Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreement, United States and Russia Reach (Jan. 3, 1993)
[kw]Arms Reduction Agreement, United States and Russia Reach Nuclear (Jan. 3, 1993)
[kw]Agreement, United States and Russia Reach Nuclear Arms Reduction (Jan. 3, 1993)
Nuclear weapons;disarmament
START II (1993)[Start 02]
[g]North America;Jan. 3, 1993: United States and Russia Reach Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreement[08500]
[g]Europe;Jan. 3, 1993: United States and Russia Reach Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreement[08500]
[g]United States;Jan. 3, 1993: United States and Russia Reach Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreement[08500]
[g]Russia;Jan. 3, 1993: United States and Russia Reach Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreement[08500]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Jan. 3, 1993: United States and Russia Reach Nuclear Arms Reduction Agreement[08500]
Bush, George H. W.
[p]Bush, George H. W.;START II[Start 02]
Yeltsin, Boris
Baker, James
Eagleburger, Lawrence
Kozyrev, Andrei

The United States and the former Soviet republics—particularly Russia—set about to restructure their relationships in the post-Soviet, post-Cold War world. In terms of nuclear arms, two issues were paramount. First, how could START be implemented when one of its signatories no longer existed? It was agreed at a meeting in Lisbon, Portugal, on May 23, 1992, that all the former Soviet republics would be bound by the treaty, that Russia would possess the remaining, permitted nuclear weapons, and that the other former Soviet republics would commit to forgo the acquisition of any nuclear arms. The second issue was how the nuclear reductions called for in START could be extended, acknowledging that the Cold War’s nuclear legacy posed an unacceptable threat that must be reduced even more severely. Accordingly, the United States and Russia began work on the treaty that would be known as START II.

The president of the Russian Federation, Boris Yeltsin, was absorbed by numerous issues during his country’s first year as a sovereign state. Russia was threatened by ethnic and national tensions, economic collapse, burgeoning crime, societal instability, tense relations with its newly independent neighbors, and a variety of other problems. Yeltsin, like Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev Gorbachev, Mikhail
[p]Gorbachev, Mikhail;U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations] before him, sought above all else to stabilize relations with the West, particularly the United States. Western cooperation, technical assistance, and financial aid would be critical to Yeltsin’s efforts to address his country’s problems. The United States, as the world’s sole superpower, clearly approached the START II talks from a position of strength.

In a Washington, D.C., summit on June 17, 1992, scarcely six months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States and Russia signed a joint understanding to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals by two-thirds. In Moscow, six months later, on January 3, 1993, Yeltsin and President George H. W. Bush signed the Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, commonly known as START II.


One of the key features of START II was that it called for the complete elimination of heavy intercontinental ballistic missiles Intercontinental ballistic missiles
Missiles;intercontinental ballistic (ICBMs) and all ICBMs with multiple warheads. These land-based ICBMs are considered particularly threatening to international stability because they are effective offensive weapons and are relatively vulnerable to destruction by a preemptive strike. As a result, logic compels leaders in charge of these weapons to favor using them in a time of heightened international tensions. Therefore, eliminating these weapons can be expected to enhance stability in crisis situations. Because the Soviet Union, and thus Russia, traditionally had placed a large proportion of their nuclear warheads on heavy ICBMs, this provision of START II was seen to be of greater benefit to the United States.

Although START II was to eliminate the most destabilizing ICBMs, single-warhead ICBMs were still permitted. So were nuclear weapons deployed on aircraft and on submarines. The Central Limits provision of START II placed ceilings on the total number of strategic nuclear weapons, irrespective of deployment. The first phase of this provision, to be completed seven years after implementation of the first START treaty (now known as START I), required that Russia and the United States reduce their number of deployed strategic warheads to 3,800 and 4,250, respectively. (START I had set a limit of 6,000 for each country.) The second phase of START II, which was to be concluded by January 1, 2003, requires a further reduction to 3,000 for Russia and 3,500 for the United States. By this date, all heavy and multiwarhead ICBMs must be eliminated. Unlike its predecessor, START II required that certain classes of decommissioned missiles be destroyed. In general, START I allowed undeployed, decommissioned missiles to be stored or converted.

START II could not be implemented until START I was ratified by the respective legislatures and entered into force. In many ways, START II built upon and complemented START I. Specific sublimits placed on submarine- and plane-deployed warheads by START I remain in effect under START II. START I’s ceiling of sixteen hundred total strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (such as missiles and bombers, as opposed to the warheads deployed on them) also remains in effect. START II did, however, change the way that bombers are counted. Under START I, each bomber would count toward the country’s nuclear ceilings as one warhead, regardless of how many warheads were actually on board. START II counts the actual number of warheads on board.

Compliance with the provisions of START II was to be ensured by a series of highly intrusive verification measures. U.S. and Russian representatives would be permitted to observe the removal, conversion, and destruction of missiles. Heavy bombers could be inspected to confirm weapon loads. Various other remaining weapons systems must be exhibited to confirm their compliance with the treaty’s provisions. The verification regime of START II built substantially upon that of START I.

Although START II was signed by the Russian and U.S. presidents, ratification of the treaty was not assured. Several factors interacted to complicate the situation. The first START treaty, a precondition for START II, had not gone into force at the time START II was signed. In addition, the Republican Bush administration was replaced by the Democratic administration of Bill Clinton Clinton, Bill
[p]Clinton, Bill;START II[Start 02] only weeks after the Moscow summit. Although Yeltsin remained president of Russia, his policies and international agreements, including START II, were seen as too hasty and pro-Western by the new, independent Russian parliament—a far cry from the compliant Soviet-era legislature. Finally, the legal questions arising from the disintegration of the Soviet Union complicated the question of precisely who was bound by START. For these reasons, the Clinton administration withdrew the treaty from Senate consideration until a more opportune political environment could be achieved. The December, 1998, bombing of Iraq by the United States and the Kosovo conflict in March, 1999, played a large part in the delay.

START I finally went into force on December 5, 1994. Controlled by the new Republican majority, Senate hearings on START II resumed in early 1995, and in January the Senate ratified the treaty. The Russian parliament also was considering the treaty, and on April 14, 2000, the Duma, the lower house, ratified START II, opening the door to negotiations on START III, which was designed to make even greater arms reductions. Nuclear weapons;disarmament
START II (1993)[Start 02]

Further Reading

  • Arbotov, Alexei. “START II, Red Ink, and Boris Yeltsin.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 49 (April, 1993): 16-21. Suggests that the treaty is biased in favor of the United States.
  • Mendelsohn, Jack. “Next Steps in Nuclear Arms Control.” Issues in Science and Technology 9 (Spring, 1993): 28-34. Places START II in the broader context of world politics and nuclear stability.
  • Powaski, Ronald E. Return to Armageddon: The United States and the Nuclear Arms Race, 1981-1999. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Discussion of the arms race includes extensive attention to disarmament and the START I and II agreements.
  • Quester, George H., and Victor A. Utgoff. “Toward an International Nuclear Security Policy.” Washington Quarterly 17, no. 4 (Autumn, 1994): 5-19. One of the first comprehensive articles on the role of the United States in stopping nuclear arms proliferation after the signing of START II. Posits that the disintegration of the Soviet Union probably will not create new nuclear states, but identifies new and continuing nuclear threats.
  • Rotblat, Joseph, ed. Nuclear Weapons: The Road to Zero. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 1998. Collection of essays covers a wide range of issues related to international nuclear disarmament. Includes discussion of START II.
  • “START II Treaty Approval Urged.” U.S. Department of State Dispatch 4, no. 20 (May 17, 1993): 345-347. Transcript of Secretary of State Warren Christopher’s speech calling on the U.S. Senate to approve ratification of the treaty.
  • “START II: Treaty Between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offense Arms.” Arms Control Today 23, no. 1 (January-February, 1990): S5-S8. Supplemental section presents the treaty language. The issue also includes a variety of articles concerning the treaty.
  • Winkler, Allan M. “Keep Pressing for Arms Control.” Chronicle of Higher Education 39, no. 37 (May 19, 1993): B1-B4. Assesses arms control efforts in the post-Cold War era. Suggests that START II provides significant progress toward an arms control regime, but notes that it does not address several important nuclear threats.

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